Right Reverend Duncan Gray Jr., D.D.
was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
The Right Reverend Duncan Montgomery
Gray Jr. was consecrated May 1, 1974, as Bishop Coadjutor of
the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, becoming Diocesan on
June 1, 1974.
Bishop Gray is the son of the
late Fifth Bishop of Mississippi and Mrs. Gray. He was born
at Canton, Mississippi, on September 21, 1926. He attended
high school in Greenwood and Jackson, Mississippi, and was
graduated from Central High, Jackson, in 1944. He earned an
electrical engineering degree at Tulane University, in New
Orleans, Louisiana, in 1948 and received a commission in the
U.S. Navy that same year. He worked for two years for the
Westinghouse Corporation before entering seminary at the University
of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, where he earned his M.Div.
Degree in 1953. In 1972, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor
of Divinity degree by the University of the South.
After being ordained deacon in
April, 1953, and priest in October, 1953, by his father, Bishop
Duncan M. Gray of Mississippi, he served as Vicar of Calvary
Church, Cleveland, and Grace Church, Rosedale, from 1953 to
1957. He became rector of St. Peter's Parish, Oxford, in 1957
and served in this capacity until 1965. He also served as Chaplain
to Episcopal Students at the University of Mississippi from
1957 to 1961. At the time of his election to the episcopate,
Bishop Gray was rector of St. Paul's Parish, Meridian, and had
held this position since 1965.
At the time of his election,
he was serving as vice-president of the Diocesan Executive
Committee and chair of the Commission on Ministry. He has
been a deputy to four General Conventions and several Synods
of the Province. He has served the Diocese in the past as
a member and President of the Standing Committee, Dean of
the Board of Examining Chaplains, member and Chair of the
Departments of College Work, Christian Education, Christian
Social Relations and Communications, and as a staff member
and Camp Director for twenty years at Camp Bratton Green.
Bishop Gray served as chair
from 1977 to 1983, and as a member until 1986, of the General
Convention's Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.
He was chair of the House of Bishops' Committee on Canons
from 1975 to 1988. He served as chair of the House of Bishops'
Committee on Rules. He was vice-chair of the Board of Archives
of the Episcopal Church from 1985 to 1994. He is a member
and past chair of the Board of Trustees of All Saints' Episcopal
School, in Vicksburg, and a past member of the Board of Trustees
and the Board of Regents of the University of the South. He
was elected chancellor in May of 1991. His term expired in
May of 1997. He has served as President of Province IV, as
a member of the Council of Advice to the Presiding Bishop,
and as President of the Association for Christian Training
and Service. He is a member and past chair of the Mississippi
Religious Leadership Conference.
Bishop Gray has been active
in many civic and community affairs, both locally and statewide.
He has served as a board member and chair of the Meridian
Counseling Foundation, as chair of the Title I Advisory Committee
of the Meridian Public Schools, as a board member for many
years and president from 1963 to 1967, of the Mississippi
Council on Human Relations, and as a member of the Mississippi
Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
He was a member of the Southern Regional Council from 1967
to 1973, a member of the Committee of Southern Churchmen and
member of the editorial board of KATALLAGATE, Journal of the
Committee, from 1960 to 1980, and chair of the county advisory
board of Mississippi Action for Progress (Head Start) from
1967 to 1971.
He has had articles published
in national and regional magazines and in 1962, he was given
the National Speaker-of-the-Year Award from Tau Kappa Alpha,
National Forensic Honor Society. He served as Lanier Residence
Scholar at St. Philip's Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta in
the fall of 1996.
He is married to the former
Ruth Miller Spivey of Canton, and they have four children:
Duncan M. Gray III, rector of St. Peter's Church in Oxford,
Mississippi; Anne G. Finley, teacher in Adams, Tennessee;
Lloyd Spivey Gray, editor of The Northeast Mississippi
Daily Journal in Tupelo, Mississippi; and Catherine Gray
Clark, an attorney in Nashville, Tennessee.
World War II Navy-12 Program
Race relations during childhood
Working at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh
Working at Westinghouse in Louisiana
University of the South, Sewanee
Cleveland, Mississippi, 1954,
and Amzie Moore 9
T.R.M. Howard in Mound Bayou,
Community Relations Service
Dr. Dan Beittel and Cardinal
Archbishop Bernie Law 10
Rector Duncan Hobart and St.
Church, Meridian 10
St. Peter's Episcopal Church,
Move from Oxford to Meridian
The Meridian Star 13
Lauderdale Economic Assistance
Program (LEAP) 14
Mississippi Action for Progress
(MAP) and Head Start 14
Committee of Conscience 15
School integration in 1964 and
unitary school decision in 1969 15
Mississippi Council on Human
Relations, Dave Dennis
and Bob Moses 19
Amzie Moore 20
Regional Council of Negro Leadership
Mound Bayou, May 1954 20
"The Social Implications of
the Christian Gospel"--segregation
incompatible with Christianity
National Sharecroppers Fund
Bob Moses and Amzie Moore 23
AN ORAL HISTORY
REVEREND DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY JR., D.D.
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
The Right Reverend Duncan Gray and is taking place on April
16, 1999. The interviewer is Don Williams.
Williams: I guess
the first thing that I want to ask you is just kind of personal
background information, and I want you, at some point in time,
[to] let me know what is the difference between Catholic and
Episcopalian. Am I correct?
right. OK. (Laughter.)
little schism here, isn't there?
there's a difference. There's a difference.
your first name is?
The first name is Duncan. D-U-N-C-A-N. Gray.
And I am junior. You'd better put junior down there for two
reasons. First, I've got a son who's Duncan M. Gray, III,
and he is also a priest. And my father, Duncan M. Gray Sr.
was also Bishop of Mississippi, Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi,
back many years ago. Now, he died in sixty-six. But that's
the reason I put that junior on there, because there are three
of us, all involved in the Episcopal Church in Mississippi,
so you've got to make some distinctions there.
(A brief segment of the interview
regarding scheduling has not been transcribed.)
were you born?
Gray: I was
born in Canton, Mississippi, just twenty-five miles up the
what was your date of birth?
Depression when it came?
although in retrospect, I can look back on those times and
remember things that were typical of the Depression era, but
at the time, I thought they were perfectly normal. Such as,
always, all the clothes I ever had were handed down to me
from cousins. I never bought any new clothes, but I thought
that was fine. That didn't bother me. And such as, my father
was an Episcopal priest, too, and our house was right next
door to the church, and I mean every night we had people coming
by there to get something. I remember my mother making peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches, plates full of them, almost every
night. And, you know, things like that, but I didn't know
much the difference at the time, but I certainly, in retrospect,
can see. But I didn't feel like I was suffering during that
time, at all. I felt like I was having, well, never mind.
I had a happy childhood. Let's put it like that.
you certainly live in Jackson, now, so, when did you first
move to Meridian?
we moved to Meridian in 1965. I can give you the whole [story],
pretty quick. I was born in Canton, but we moved from there
when I was three years old. I grew up in Columbus and Greenwood,
Mississippi; moved to Jackson, our family did, just for my
senior year in high school, so I graduated from high school
school did you attend?
Central High. The one right down there in the middle of town,
right now. You know, the city uses it now. I forget for what
purpose. I think it's the Board of Education or something
like that, but it's--
right there on North West Street. Right next door, practically
to the Roman Catholic cathedral, St. Peter's Cathedral, there.
year was that, that you graduated?
1944. [I lived in] other places in Mississippi. See, after
ordination, I served in Cleveland and Rosedale and then Oxford
and then Meridian, before moving to Jackson in 1974. So, I've
lived all over Mississippi, just about, except on the coast,
after you graduated from Central High School, where did you
see, that was during World War II, and I went right into the
Navy on July 1, after graduating from high school in June,
went to the Navy July 1, but I was sent to Tulane University
in what they called the Navy-12 Program, in those days. They
would take high school graduates and give them a year or two
in college, before, and then you were commissioned an officer
after Officer Training School, and all. Anyway, I got into
the Navy-12 program right out of high school and, of course,
the war was over in just about a year after that, and so I
never saw, well, I was on active duty the whole time, but
I was never in combat or anything like that. I spent my time
at Tulane. So after the war, after I was discharged, I came
back to Tulane and got my degree in electrical engineering,
believe it or not, and worked with Westinghouse for about
year was that, that you were at Westinghouse?
February of forty-eight. We were just talking about our wedding.
We were married on February 9, 1948. That was two days after
I graduated, and I went to work for Westinghouse two weeks
later. So, I started to work for Westinghouse in late February,
that in New Orleans?
Gray: No, I was
you went to Pittsburgh.
first, and then I was, after a year--. In those days they
had what they called the graduate student training program.
They would take the engineering graduates, and they would
put you [to] work on the assembly line; you would work in
manufacturing and repair; you would work in sales offices,
four to six weeks at a time, sort of getting the feel for
the whole company. And then I was assigned, when I finished
that, I was assigned to the New Orleans office as what they
called a sales engineer, engineering consultant and all for
the sales office, Westinghouse Sales Office in New Orleans.
So, we lived there and then I was in Shreveport, briefly.
That was a part of the New Orleans office, doing the same
thing and it was later, that's when I decided the Lord was
calling me to the priesthood and went to seminary. Went to
seminary at Sewanee University of the South. Did you ever
hear of that?
Where was that, Sewanee?
it's in Tennessee. It's between Chattanooga and Nashville.
It's up on the Cumberland Plateau, so it's, we think of it
as the mountain. It's not that high, but the elevation is
about 2200 feet, but it is an Episcopal school, a liberal
arts school like Millsaps, but in addition to the liberal
arts school, it's about the same size as Millsaps. Millsaps
and Sewanee are in the same athletic conferences and do all
that. Millsaps, Rhodes, Sewanee, Davidson, but [at Sewanee,]
they also have a seminary up there for theological training,
and I went to seminary there. I didn't go to college, but
I went to seminary there. And then was ordained in 1953, and
went straight to Cleveland, Mississippi. You've been in Cleveland?
then as I say, after about four years, I was at Oxford for
eight years, Jackson in 1974. So that's pretty fast, but that's
my life history. (Laughter.)
you got to Meridian what year?
Gray: In 1965.
As a matter of fact, August of 1965.
me just kind of regress a little bit. Growing up here in Mississippi,
when did you first realize, let's say, become conscious of
race relations between blacks and whites?
a good question, and I have to answer it in two different
ways. Growing up in Columbus is what I'm thinking primarily.
Columbus and Greenwood. But Columbus was ten years that were
pretty critical. That was the Depression years and I got to
Columbus when I was age three. We left when I was thirteen.
So those ten years. And I guess my memories there were [that]
I was always around black folks. All the time. Now, I admit,
I know in retrospect, it was on anything but
an equal basis. But in those days, you know, I was nursed
by black nurses. I don't mean fed, but I'm talking about they
looked after me. And we would have a black lady as a cook.
I mean, I grew up with some very close relationships like
that. Now, that's one way, I've got to say. You say when was
I aware of it. I certainly knew the difference.
I mean I knew that there were whites and blacks and I knew
that we didn't--. I knew that, for example, even on Sundays,
whites were in one place, blacks were in the other.
Interestingly enough, though,
on Saturdays, our yard was full of black folks all the time
because in Columbus, if you ever go there, look where St. Paul's
Episcopal Church is. It's right downtown, in the area that,
I don't know what the name of the street [is]. In those days,
it was called Catfish Alley. There was a street there. And it's
where on the weekends, particularly on Saturdays, I mean, black
folks coming in from out of town, out in the country, would
always converge on that area. That was sort of the Farish Street
of Columbus. And all in front of our house, every day, all up
and down that street were, in those days, wagons, horses, mules,
wagons, parked there, all day long, on Saturday. Ninety percent
of the folks who were there were black. I mean I grew up, in
a sense, surrounded by black folks. I guess I didn't realize
until later where the lines were drawn and where, you know,
it was OK and where it wasn't. And I guess that was probably,
quite honestly, well, in school, I knew when I was going to
school, I didn't have any black kids in the classes with me.
That was obvious. But I guess the point that I'm trying to make
[is] that on the one hand, I knew there was segregation there
and on the other hand I was thrown with black folks to where
Now, this is, maybe, hard to
understand, but, well, that wonderful thing that Ralph Ellison
said. I can't quote him exactly. Not long before he died,
he said, "It's pretty hard to grow up in Mississippi--." He
may have said the South, but I think he was talking about
Mississippi. "It's pretty hard to grow up in Mississippi and
not be--." Well, I'd better get the quote out, because it's
too good. But he is saying that white people growing up in
Mississippi, in that day and time, inevitably absorbed and
had a large connection, so to speak, with black folks as well.
Hard for a white person to grow up in Mississippi and not
be black, or something like that. Hard for a black person
to grow up in Mississippi and not be white. Now, that's certainly
not in terms of on an equal basis, but we were thrown together
so much on other things that I feel like I assimilated a lot
of, let's say, black culture, as I grew up. Now, I mean, I
can remember the songs that the folks sang to me, you know.
Around the house, and I'm getting into that too deeply, but
that's important to me because I look back on that time, and
those were happy times. They really were, and I know, I
know, the cook and the maid couldn't have been all
that happy, but, by George, they acted like it. I mean, they
were such great spirits, and it was fun. Probably wasn't much
fun for them, but they made it fun for us. And, I'm talking
about, when I say us, I'm talking about my sisters and myself.
Now, that's a long-winded answer on one angle.
The other angle is, the other
dimension is, I guess it was in years in Greenwood that I
began to realize just how separated we were and I think what
it took, one time, for me to realize that, was, I went on
a train trip to St. Louis.
you know about what year this was?
Gray: It would
have been in, oh around 1940, forty-one, something like that.
And I remember, going on a train trip, and as we crossed the
Mason-Dixon Line, or whatever it was, wherever they drew the
line in those days, an all-white coach suddenly became a mixed
coach. There were blacks and whites in it. And that caught
my attention, and I said, "Well, yes, you know, that's right.
We have been separated, but now we're not."
I guess that got me to thinking about it for the first time.
I had been, probably, I was in about the eighth grade or something
like that. Eighth or ninth grade. And I began to think more
seriously about how we were separated. Now, I didn't make
any resolutions to go do something about it or anything. I
mean, you asked me how I grew up, and as I became conscious
of these things, and I guess I was pretty well sheltered from
a lot of the really bad stuff that was going on.
I can remember reading in Life
magazine about a lynching and that shook me up pretty much.
And as a matter of fact, that was really before, that was
in the late thirties, I think, when I read about that. It
didn't take place in Mississippi, this particular one, but
that made an impression on me. I can still see that Life
magazine and see the photographs that were taken of the victim
as he had been chained to a tree. But I really can't say that
I got carried away with deep concern, or anything like that.
All of that came later and it came really in connection with
my call to the priesthood, I think. If you want me to continue--
Well, the time we spent in
Pittsburgh was interesting to me. And I'll never forget. I
told you I worked in different areas. I worked on the assembly
line. And I worked in this one called M and R plant, they
called it. Manufacturing and repair. It was mainly for repairing.
I mean, heavy equipment. This is not appliances, and all,
but generators and large motors and transformers, and all.
And I remember working, one of my assignments was working
with this black guy who was steam-cleaning motors. I mean,
after you had gotten all the wiring out and you are steam-cleaning
before you rewire them, and all. And, he taught me how to
do that. We were working on it.
Well, we got to talking. Of course,
I was from Mississippi which raised some interesting questions
right away, but he had been in the Army during World War II
and had been a major in the Army and here he was in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, when the war was over, steam-cleaning motor rotors.
That, I mean, was strictly manual labor, you know, on an hourly-wage
basis, probably at the bottom of the scale. And he and I had
some interesting conversations and I guess it struck me immediately:
here's a guy who could be a major in the Army, and this ain't
Mississippi, either. This is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and yet
he is doing this kind of work. He obviously was a very intelligent
fellow, you know. I enjoyed speaking to him. He may have been
pulling my leg, but he told me, "Look, I've been treated worse
in Pittsburgh than I was when I was stationed in Mississippi."
You know, I know he was shielded, and I know he was--. Anyway,
I mention all that, not because I think that was necessarily
true, but in that conversation, it really opened up my eyes
to the fact that it wasn't just in the Deep South that discrimination
existed, too. Maybe not the same way, but it was rough. But
then, I'll never forget, I guess what really got to me was when
we were living in Shreveport. This would have been 1950, early
fifties, but it was around in there, forty-nine, fifty.
y'all were getting married, then.
Gray: Oh, yes,
we got married, as I said, two days after I graduated from
college. We'd been courting for years and we had been high
school sweethearts and everything else, so Ruthie and I got
married, two days after I graduated, before I got my first
paycheck, and then we moved to Pittsburgh, and I went to work
for Westinghouse, but in Shreveport, we were living on Creswell
Avenue. You're not familiar with Shreveport, but I'll never
forget two things that happened to me. First, there was an
automobile accident at the intersection right close to our
house. Not our house, we were living in an apartment, but
I was out there. It was a spring or summer night, and I was
out there when it happened. And there was a black guy and
a white guy involved in it. Now, I was a witness to the thing
and I would have said there wasn't any question but what the
white guy, it was his fault, but, when the police arrived
and they started talking to witnesses, they didn't want to
listen to me. And they ended up charging him. And, I mean,
I didn't know all the legal technicalities at the time, but
it was obvious the way it was going, they were going to charge
him. Well, that really got me to thinking. I mean, this guy,
that was, well, you see what I'm talking about, and that got
Well, not long after that, something
else happened. We had this lady working for us. She just came
in one day a week as a maid, and her son was picked up, arrested
one day. And she came to work that day just in tears, telling
us about it, and what he had done was whistle at or make some
sort of inappropriate remark, or something, to a white woman,
and she reported it, and he was put in jail. And, well, I was
going to be helpful and I told her, you know, I would go down
and see what I could do, and try getting him out. [I went down],
and boy, they let me know in no uncertain terms that he was
in there to stay, for a while, anyway. And it really upset me,
and it upset me so much, when I was at work the next day, I
was talking to my boss, and this was a small office. We were
a branch office of the New Orleans office. There weren't many
of us there, and I need to be careful here, because this person
has changed radically since then, and I certainly won't mention
his name. But he was somebody for whom I had a great deal of
respect, and thought, you know, he was just a fine person, and
he was in so many, many ways. But when I told him this story
and how deeply concerned I was, his response was, "They should
have killed the SOB. They should have shot the SOB." Or something
like that. And that really got my attention.
I couldn't imagine that this fellow, whom I thought was so wonderful
in so many ways, and he was in so many ways, I couldn't imagine
ever hearing him say something like that. And it really, that
got to me. Well, I don't need to go into--. That wasn't the
only reason I went to seminary, but this was all taking place
in this process, and then when I went to seminary, and, here,
I could talk all day. You'd better, you're going to have to
pull the plug on me in a minute, but you asked me to give. Let
me just give you this much.
let me have this one, too.
Gray: The last
year in seminary was the year of the great [quote] "integration
controversy" at Sewanee. I'm talking about the University
of the South.
was, what year?
was the academic year of fifty-two/fifty-three. What had happened
was the Provincial Synod of the Episcopal Church, meeting
in Birmingham, I think it was, in the fall of 1951, had petitioned
Sewanee, which is a church-owned school, like Millsaps is
a church-owned school by the Methodist Church, to [quote]
"consider admitting"--. And you know all the terminology,
and I can use African-Americans or blacks. Black comes most
naturally to me. In those days, it was Negro, you know. "Admitting
right. That's right. But "[consider] admitting Negroes" to
the seminary. And the trustees met in June of 1952. They had
an annual meeting. They met in June of fifty-two, and issued
a statement something like this: Although there is nothing
in the ordinances of the university that would prevent a Negro
student being admitted to the seminary, we don't think it
is a good idea to encourage it at this time.
And you heard a lot of that in
the fifties, as you know, and sixties. Well, the faculty of
the seminary really rose up in arms, and they issued statements
protesting this, and in short threatened to resign if the trustees
didn't change that ruling. That set in motion a whole year of
controversy because of the way the trustees work up there. They
don't meet but once a year. The Board of Regents is a smaller
group, and sort of an executive committee, and they meet in
between, to take care of the hands-on administration. But anyway,
during that academic year, my senior year in seminary, my last
year in seminary, we had a "laboratory course" in race relations
because of the faculty and most of the seminarians, virtually
all of the seminarians and so many other people, who were pressing
for the open door policy and so many, largely trustees, [who
were against it]. These are all the southern dioceses, by and
large, the ones that own the university. And they were resisting.
Not everybody. I want to make that clear, but many. The point
was, though, there was real conflict all year long and it reached
the point where there was a lot of character assassination directed
against members of the faculty. You know, sort of to divert,
distract attention from the real issue and concentrate instead
on what was alleged to be misbehavior on their part, you know.
Drinking too much here, or something and so forth. I have said
in retrospect, it was a "laboratory course" for me for the rest
of my ministry, the next twenty years of my ministry, because
you saw all of these dynamics at work. I mean the attempts made
to undermine people for things other--. Not to engage in the
discussion of the issue itself, but start using ad hominem
arguments and say this guy is, he doesn't really mean this.
And questioning his motives and so forth. I don't need to go
into all that, but let me tell you this story. The end result
was: it degenerated to that level so that the faculty finally
said, "OK. We are the issue here. We are going to resign as
of the end of this academic year so that the trustees can wrestle
with the real issue which is integration." And said, "They keep
saying, 'Oh, we're not against integration, but . . .' 'We're
not against integration, but . . .' And so forth." They said,
"We are going to resign and get out of here."
So they did, but they stayed
for the rest of the year so that I had the same faculty until
I graduated. Of course, I graduated the same time the faculty
left, so we claim they were members of our class, you know.
Now, I have to say, quickly, the trustees the following year,
in June of fifty-three, reversed themselves, opened the seminary
and college, and the first black student was admitted in the
summer of 1953. But that academic year, we did well in our
studies. We studied hard because we wanted to reflect credit
on the faculty. We were supporting the faculty so people said,
"Well, you didn't have time to do much studying." We studied
harder than we ever did before, because we wanted to really
show that the faculty was doing a good job. All right, you
don't need to hear all of that, but let me say, that made
a profound impression on me, and I went out into the ordained
ministry, well, you see. You get the picture.
I imagine you coming back to Meridian with those experiences,
life experiences, and with the kinds of attitudes, behaviors,
and beliefs that you're developing. Now, this is what I want,
and I think we've got a pretty good understanding, you know,
of your experience. I want to know what happened, what made
you go to Meridian? What brought you to Meridian?
now, that's a long story. I almost have to go back--. See,
where I went first was to Cleveland, Mississippi, right in
the heart of the Delta, a county that at that point was about
70 percent black, and I was there when the Brown v. Board
of Education decision came down. I was there when the
Citizens' Councils were organized in Indianola, Mississippi,
which was only about twenty-five miles away. I was there when
Emmett Till was killed, lynched. I mean, that's where it all
started, and I started out right there. I was there, I don't
know whether you have run into the name Dr. T.R.M. Howard?
I've heard of him.
I got to know him well while I was there.
See, he was in Mound Bayou, and you know Mound Bayou.
Gray: An all-black
community up there about eight miles north of Cleveland. I
first met Amzie Moore, who was head of the NAACP in Cleveland
in those years. We got to be good friends. I met Medgar Evers
while I was in Cleveland and Aaron Henry and all of these
folks. So, it got started. That was where we got started.
Then we went to Oxford and of course in Oxford, I was there
when they had the riot at Ole Miss, see? I was out on the
campus that night. By the time I got to Meridian, I give you
that much background for this--
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
so, you were telling me you went to Cleveland.
and then in Oxford, and you asked me, the question was, how
did I come to go to Meridian. How did that work out? Interestingly
enough, Meridian had a reputation in those days, through the
fifties and sixties, of being a pretty awful place because
[of] the Klan activity. I'm talking about in the area of race,
and all, in particular with the Klan, Sam Bowers in nearby
Laurel. As you recall, the triple murders in Neshoba County
of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, just north of Meridian.
The Klan was, well, when I say visible, not in the sense of
they were riding down the street every day, but you knew
the Klan was there, and you were hearing from the Klan. The
Klan was [making] telephone calls and everything else. Meridian
had a pretty bad image in the public eye, particularly up
North. And I'll tell you a story about that to illustrate
I happened to know people in
Meridian who were among the most liberal. I'm talking about
white community, now. Most open on the issue of race anywhere
in Mississippi. The people I knew in Meridian tended to be
more like that, than what you saw at the usual image. I'll
never forget, this is the story I wanted to tell you: Bernie
Law, this same fellow I'm talking about, Cardinal Archbishop
of Boston, now, and Dan Beittel who was president of Tougaloo
College at the time, and I were the only three white people
in Mississippi that were put on the Community Relations Service,
back when the Civil Rights Bill was passed in 1964.
And in those days--I don't think it still exists now--but
they organized in each state, what they called a Community
Relations Service. I mean they had volunteers and then they
had paid people who would come in and work on it. I'll never
forget, when I was moving from Oxford to Meridian, the Community
Relations director who was based in Memphis, came and talked
to me. He said, "What in the world are you going to Meridian
for? That terrible place."
I said, "Well, no."
"Well, in a way, I'm glad you're
going there. Now I'll have at least one white person I can
talk to in Meridian."
And I said, "Look, I've never
lived in Meridian, but right now, I'll sit down and give you
fifty names that you can talk to." The point was, he, even
though that was his business to be informed on, he still thought
of Meridian in those terms. I knew a different side of Meridian.
I knew a different Meridian, and it was so different from
the public image. That's sort of an aside comment, but when
these friends I had, a number of them were in St. Paul's Episcopal
Church down there. They had a Rector there by the name of
Duncan Hobart who was there for nineteen years, I guess. He
moved in the summer of 1962 and I was real close to Duncan
Hobart. He and I worked together on lots of things. By the
way, we worked together on our Diocesan Department of Christian
Social Relations. We published a pamphlet that I wrote, but
the department sponsored it. He was great. Anyway, we were
real close. Through him I had gotten to know members of his
congregation pretty well. He certainly had been way ahead
of his time in the area of race relations. And when he left,
he put in a good word for me, and then he had supporters there.
I mean, people who supported him and who knew me, so, they
extended a call for me in the summer of 1962 to come to St.
Paul's, Meridian. Well, I had always thought St. Paul's was
the best Episcopal church in Mississippi because of Duncan
Hobart and the influence he had had there, but we were also
facing, we knew, the admission of James Meredith at the University
of Mississippi in Oxford that fall. And, I felt like I just
had to stay in Oxford. I mean, I had been there for, let's
see, five years at that point. I had made some contacts, some
friendships, and I felt like I had something to offer there
that a brand new priest coming on board would not, so I turned
down the call to St. Paul's, Meridian, in sixty-two, and told
them as much. I said, "I just feel like it would be irresponsible
for me to leave St. Peter's, Oxford, right now, with all this
Well, to make a long story
short--. I tell you that much because I am trying to say [that]
I had some relationships, particularly in St. Paul's Church,
established long before I ever moved to Meridian. In 1965,
three years later, the priest who had gone there had left,
so they were looking again, and the Bishop who was John Maury
Allin at the time, Bishop Coadjutor, suggested my name. And
they responded, and issued me a call. Now, I'll tell you,
I said it was a miracle. I was convinced at that point that
there was no other Episcopal church in Mississippi that would
have me at this point, and I was actively looking for a place
up North somewhere. In fact, I had talked in some depth with
a friend of mine who was chaplain at the University of Maryland,
and he had put me in touch with a couple of congregations
in the Washington D.C./Maryland area there, and I was actively
looking because things were getting a little too rough in
Oxford. This call from Meridian, it just blew my mind. I mean,
and I would never have gotten it had it not been for those
earlier relationships. That's the reason I had to tell that
story first. And, well, we didn't much think twice. We moved,
pretty fast, I mean, after that. Billy Neville, Judge Billy
Neville. You may have heard some of these names. Come to think
of it, maybe I ought to mention some of them.
give me as many names--
you heard Billy Neville's name?
Whatever names that you--
Judge Billy Neville had been Senior Warden, Chief Lay Officer
at St. Paul's, and he was at that time. And
he and I had been good friends and we had seen eye-to-eye
on the whole business of race relations and where we needed
to go, so that was a big factor that helped. He was the Chief
Lay Officer at St. Paul's. There were other people on the
Vestry--that's the governing body of a parish--whom I knew
and who were sympathetic to what I had tried to do in Oxford.
It was wonderful. Now it wasn't a hundred percent. I mean,
when I went there, there were some members of the Vestry that
resigned and left the church, and all. But that was just a
small number. There were not a whole lot. By and large, the
people welcomed us and certainly the Chief Lay Officer.
So, I went there, under no false
pretenses. I mean, they knew what they were doing when they
asked me to come. Now, we still had difficulties later on, but
the way the ground had been prepared by my two predecessors,
Jim McKeown was my immediate predecessor, and he had been very
active in trying to help ease racial tensions. And Duncan Hobart
who had been there for nineteen years had made a tremendous
impression on the church and on the community, too. But they,
shall I say, prepared the way in such a way that, I think, at
that point in time, St. Paul's, Meridian was probably the only
parish in Mississippi that would have accepted me, would have
taken me. They did, for which I was ever so grateful, and I
have (inaudible) at times, but I mean, it was (inaudible). Did
you talk to anybody at St. Paul's? I mean, did that come up
in your interviews or anything?
I heard about St. Paul's, but, how many members were in St.
I think, somewhere between four and five hundred. Something
like that. It was not a huge parish, but by Episcopalian standards,
it was adequate.
was all white?
Gray: Oh, yes.
Yes. Now, it was when I went there. Now, we had some black
members before I left. In fact, I think, even today some of
the folks who came in there when I was there, some of them
are still there. One of them, who became one of our members,
went into the priesthood and is an Episcopal priest now.
you remember his name?
Gray: Oh, Lord.
I can look it up. I have these senior moments right now at
age seventy-three, or something, but my memory slips me sometimes.
been doing pretty darn good so far.
Gray: But I
can check that out.
Gray: But now,
excuse me, I don't want to leave a wrong impression. There
was still just token integration, pretty much. I mean, you
know, we might have had a congregation of five hundred, we'll
say, and there might have been twelve or fifteen including
children and everything else, were black parishioners, so
it wasn't many, but one of the ladies sang in the choir and
she is still singing in the choir over there now. And, some
were in sort of highly visible roles in some ways. One played
the organ. Not our regular organist, but substituted on occasion.
Anyway, now, you ask me a question.
Now, I want to know, when you got to Meridian, and you kind
of sized it up. What's your first impression of Meridian?
What did you think was going on there?
You don't mind if I stand up
a little bit?
Gray: No, if
you'll be more comfortable.
just want to just kind of stand up a little bit. So, sizing
up the town. You've got your assignment and you want to size
this place up and then you're going to come up with a strategy
to try to deal with something, aren't you?
here's the thing. As I tried to say earlier, I already had
a much better impression of Meridian than most people did.
Although this was before, well, no, it wasn't before, it was
after the triple slaying, see, right up in
Philadelphia. And of course, Mickey Schwerner was based in
Meridian and James Chaney was from Meridian and Goodman had
just come to town, but it was so associated with Meridian
that that was very much on everybody's mind because that had
happened just a year earlier. Just a year earlier. Also, the
march at Selma had just taken place, and Selma, you know,
it's not more than what, seventy or eighty miles from Meridian.
It's close by there and that had taken place in the spring
of sixty-five. We got there in August of sixty-five. So, things
were certainly popping. They hadn't broken wide open like
they did a little later. Although, I keep backing up. I have
to keep remembering. Nineteen sixty-four, there had been many
a church burned in Meridian. There certainly had. I guess
what I am trying to say is, by the time we moved there in
the fall of sixty-five, that had cooled down a little bit
and there were some efforts being made of some sort at reconciliation.
Not very effective, but there were some efforts being made.
I happened to know the people who were working in that area
so, in that sense, I had a good feeling about Meridian.
What was bad about Meridian
was one of the newspapers. It was awful at that time, The
Meridian Star. And I mean they were beating the drum,
if not for the Klan, certainly for the Citizens' Councils,
and everything else. It was segregation now, segregation forever,
and so forth. Although in the fall of sixty-four, token integration
had taken place at some of the Meridian schools, at the formerly
all-white schools. And there had been a handful of black students
in the fall of sixty-four and by the time we got there in
sixty-five, there was a little larger handful, but still,
mostly a handful at that point. But I guess I didn't, I was
uneasy with the police department at that point. I was certainly
uneasy with the paper.
that Chief Gunn at the time?
but I didn't know Chief Gunn. You know, later on, he became
an entirely different person. I didn't have anything against
him. I didn't even know him. I just meant the way some of
the police were operating. I was a little uneasy about them.
But the newspaper was terrible. And certainly, you heard a
lot of stuff on the radio, even on the streets on occasion,
that worried you, but I still knew Meridian, as far as I was
concerned, I had a lot more faith in Meridian than I had in
Jackson, for example. That somehow, some way, we were going
to find a way to deal with this, and I think we did. I think
Meridian did a better job than Jackson, quite honestly. Now,
excuse me, I don't want to, these are generalizations and
you asked me what my opinion of Meridian was. I felt like
we had a good chance in Meridian. And I knew a lot of the
Jewish community in Meridian. Al Rosenbaum and Alec Loeb,
and some of those folks. The Davidsons. I got to know them
very soon. The rabbi who was there, Milton Schlager, was a
good friend of mine for a long time and these folks were obviously
in there pitching. Tom Ward. You asked me to mention a few
names. I mentioned Billy Neville, who just meant everything
in so many ways, and he was a chancery judge, see. He was
a chancellor. And that's an elected office and all that, but
he was very much concerned about equal rights, and equal justice
and about integration. Now everybody had their ideas about
how fast it ought to go, you know. But he was not a segregationist.
Tom Ward was a lawyer, a tax
lawyer but also had gotten into real estate there. Well, his
son Robert Ward is still there. I'm not sure what Robert's
doing now. He was connected with the television station there,
and his father was one of the organizers of that television
station originally. These were key people. Not to mention
people like Mary Elliott. I mention her because her husband
had died. He would have been right there, too, but he died
in the spring of sixty-five, before I got there, but Mary
Elliott and her sons, David Elliott, who is now an Episcopal
priest, too. He was an insurance man at that time, but he
is over in Vicksburg right now. Those are some of the people
that I think of in St. Paul's. They are not the only ones
by any means. But, I guess the--. And see, I got to know.
I'm forgetting just how all of this came about, but I got
to know Charles Young pretty soon after I got there. And Charles
Johnson and R.S. Porter, Coleman Inge. A lot of those. I tell
you what it was, what got us started. First of all, it was
the war against poverty and the organization, the Community
Action Organization. They called it over there LEAP, Lauderdale
Economic Assistance Program. And when we organized, Charles
Young was the first president and I was the first vice-president.
Clark. Oh, yes. Well, he was the paid executive for LEAP for
a long time, and all, but I'm talking about the board. Yes,
Obie was the paid executive. But then Charles had gotten started
with the Head Start program there, Mississippi Action for
Progress, and he had really been the one who pulled all that
together, and he got me involved in that and my wife, too,
for that matter. My wife was teaching in the Head Start center,
I mean as a volunteer. She wasn't on a paid job. But volunteering
in the Head Start centers, and I chaired the Head Start Board
over there for about four or five years, I guess, back from
about sixty-six to sixty-nine, or something. I forget the
exact dates. But we worked together real closely. I guess
what I'm trying to say is, I was seeing a lot of the good
part of Meridian, and then it was in sixty-eight, when all
hell broke loose, you know, again. I mean, the Klan started
bombing and burning, in addition to black churches. And by
the way, at that time, one of the places they concentrated
on were the churches with Head Start centers. The center where
my wife was working was bombed.
you remember the name of that church?
Gray: It was
on Tenth Avenue. I've got that written down, too. I can take
you right to it, but I can't remember right at the moment,
but it was a Baptist Church, and well, of course, the Jewish
synagogue was bombed at that same rash of bombings and burnings.
That was in sixty-eight, and we formed the Committee of Conscience,
it was called, and worked first of all, to rebuild the churches
that had been [damaged]. Raised money to rebuild the churches
that had been bombed or burned. But secondly, to try and bring
some measure of reconciliation and healing to the community.
I'm really getting long-winded, but I'm trying to say that
I never had as bad of an impression of Meridian as so many
people did and so many people outside, because so many of
the people I knew in Meridian were working for healing and
reconciliation and we worked through some hard times, too.
I mean, you know, a lot of bad, ugly telephone calls, and
some harassment and some folks who dropped out of the church
and all, but not anything like it would have happened at lots
of other towns at that point.
I have to take it one step
further because it's what I said a moment ago, I think Meridian
handled these things a lot better than Jackson did, particularly
school integration. And, as you well know, you've studied
the Brown v. Board of Education in fifty-four, but
it took a long, long, long, long time. And in Meridian, as
I said, I think the first blacks came to formerly all-white
schools ten years later, sixty-four. And even for several
years after that, it was just on a token basis. But then,
the unitary school decision came down in November of sixty-nine,
it was. And then that was the end of all this fooling around.
As of the next semester, January of 1970, there would be total
integration and no more postponement. Well, Meridian had gotten
started on that, but this was still going to be a major change,
because, unlike Jackson, [even though] there was a private
school that grew up in Meridian, it didn't take away a whole
lot of the white population in those days. I don't know what
it's doing now.
you remember the name of the school?
It was Lamar. But there was a real effort on the part of the
whole community, I think, to get through this peacefully,
effectively, and in a healing and reconciling way. Now, well,
I have to tell this: when this started, the superintendent
of schools there, a fellow by the name of Todd, Dr. Todd,
came to my wife Ruthie, and asked her if she would be the
citywide PTA president to help go through this transition
period. And she had been active with the PTA. We had three,
well, we had four kids in school. One of them had graduated
by then, and gone off to college, but there were still three
of them in the schools in Meridian at that time. So we had
a deep interest in it ourselves, but we pulled together and
worked and a lot of meetings were held in St. Paul's church.
They were held in lots of places, but a lot of meetings were
held in St. Paul's church, of students, blacks and whites,
of parents, and school authorities, and interested citizens,
other than that. That's when, I was mentioning a moment ago
when Obie Clayton and our son Lloyd got to be such good friends.
In those days there was, obviously in the high school, now
I'm just talking about the high school at the moment, the
top [three] grades [(ten through twelve)], there was Meridian
High over here and the black high school over here. What they
That's right. I was waiting for it to come to me! Harris High.
And what they did, at that point, was to send all the tenth
grade, whites and blacks and everybody, to the formerly all-black
[school], and the eleventh and twelfth grades to the formerly
all-white [school]. So it was a total integration. I mean,
there were not two schools. They just moved. I mean, there
were two schools, but there was one grade here and two grades
here. Well, my son Lloyd, our son Lloyd, had been elected
president of the sophomore class at the all-white school,
or predominantly-white school. Obie had been elected president
of the sophomore class at Harris High. So, when they started
coming together, and all the tenth grade went over, from Meridian
High, went over to Harris High and all the things working
up to it, obviously student leadership was involved to a considerable
degree, and he and Obie got to be very good friends, working
to try and make this thing work. And they went through high
school together and then went to Millsaps together. They were
both at Millsaps together and then they went their separate
ways, and Lloyd went into the newspaper business and Obie
went on and got advanced degrees in sociology, as a matter
of fact. But they still stay in touch with one another and
visit from time to time even though Obie is in Atlanta and
Lloyd is in Tupelo.
Anyway, that's some of the
family involvement that my wife, the way she was involved
in it and we had a hitch or two. I can remember in the late
spring, along about this time, April or early May, there was
a little unhappiness at the school and we had to settle things
down. I'm talking about the high school, now, but that, too,
passed, and I'm not going to say it was perfect but I think
they did as good a job in Meridian of pulling this thing together
as any place in Mississippi. Now, I may be wrong, but I feel--.
do you think that happened?
Gray: I think
two or three things. I think one: as I had said to you before,
there was this, for lack of a better word, let's say liberal
white element, an element in the white community and a good
part of that, too, was a significant Jewish community there
in Meridian. And they were community leaders and they were
involved in the community and that meant a lot. I mean, they
made an important contribution. Quite honestly, from my own
perspective, I feel like the work of people like Duncan Hobart
and Jim McKeown at St. Paul's did a lot, too. I'm saying St.
Paul's played a role in there, in many respects like the Jewish
community played a role. And those things were important.
Now, over and above that was people like Chief Gunn. I mean,
you know, in his own way, oh, sort of, well, what's the word
I want to use? I can't get the right word, but, you wouldn't
peg Chief Gunn as a flaming liberal or anything like that,
but he was there to do his job, what needed to be done, and
he certainly didn't want to put up with the Klan violence
and that kind of thing.
understand that he was straight down the line.
said, "Well, hey, I want you guys. We're going to do this.
This is the law. This is the way we are going to do it. We
are not going to have this mess. I want everybody to understand
right. That's exactly the way he was. So you had that. And
the only, the thing working the hardest against us was the
newspaper. That's the thing. And I say that, and I've got
to be careful because the owners of the newspaper at that
time were Episcopalians. (Laughter.)
had left St. Paul's Church and had gone to Church of the Mediator,
which is another Episcopal church in Meridian, but they were
Episcopalians. But it was awful.
how did they view you on the scene?
they didn't think much of me at all at that point. The family
was the Skewes family. Now they have since sold the newspaper
and all and even before they sold it, they had changed. I
mean, they weren't this radical, racist press that they were,
but they were back in the sixties. I mean, talking about sixty-five
to well into the early seventies, they were. It was awful,
and, well, we just didn't get along very well. But interestingly
enough, before we left Meridian--Jimmy was his name. I can't
remember his wife's name--but his wife, at least, had changed
a lot and she, I can remember her coming to discussion groups
and things. We left there in 1974, and I'd say this would
have been seventy-two, seventy-three or something, and there
was change going on even in the Skewes family at that point.
do you spell that last name, Skewes?
And if they could change, anybody could change. Now, I'll
tell you. I mean, it was pretty awful. I don't want to be
quoted on that too much because the Skewes, well, you've got
me now, haven't you?
but we've got all the papers, and archives.
and you can see that. But they changed, and particularly Mrs.
Skewes, I can remember before we left Meridian, even. And,
as you well know, there were an awful lot of folks who went
through some significant changes.
(End of tape one, side two.
The interview continues on tape two, side one.)
think we are back on line here. Yes, and so, one of the things
we like is documents and stuff like that. We'll put it in
the archives and that kind of stuff. But you know, we have
an archivist that will work with you on that. They would help
you categorize it. We have boxes of stuff, and so that's what
Clarence Hunter's doing. They're training librarians and they're
preserving. They're indexing, laying it all out. I think we've
got Aaron Henry's papers at Tougaloo and who else's papers?
Well, I'm not in on that side of the thing, but--.
Gray: You are
working for Jackson State? Is that the idea?
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
other thing that I want to ask you is, how much time do you
have? I don't want to--.
Gray: Oh, I'm
fine this afternoon. I've got an appointment at 7 o'clock,
but I think we'll be through by then.
I just didn't want to--.
Gray: No, I'm
wonder if this? I guess this is going OK.
Gray: Is it
I hear it going around and the red light is on. Let me ask
you this. I'm going to kind of back up just a tiny bit. One
of the things that I think is important. Well, let me ask
you this: what other organizations do you think were important
during the sixties and seventies when you were in Meridian?
That you worked with? That you got some kind of mileage out
pardon me, when you ask me that question, it gets right personal.
The Mississippi Council on Human Relations is an organization
that wasn't all that big, wasn't all that great, but it meant
everything to me in so many ways. Now, I served as president
of it from 1962 to 1967, I think, so these were some pretty
critical years, but, on our board were such people as Aaron
Henry. And that's where I got to know Dr. Henry better than
any other time. We worked together for many years there on
that Council on Human Relations because I stayed on the board,
I mean, my goodness, until 1977 or something. Until we pretty
well shut it down, but I served as president at a pretty critical
time. I feel like that helped a lot. Now, I'm not talking
about Meridian so much as the state as a whole, because in
1964 for example, the Freedom Summer with all the folks coming
in, there was little or no communication between the civil
rights groups, the COFO group and the white community. They
were almost entirely housed and experienced in the black community.
Now what we did through the Council on Human Relations was
to at least give the white community an opportunity for exposure
to the leaders. I mean Dave Dennis and Bob Moses and folks
like that coming in and speaking to them. Now we didn't draw
huge crowds. I'm not going to be under any illusions there,
but, at least, there was a channel for people to listen and
hear what was going on and to respond, for the most part,
in a positive and reconciling way. So that's a personal prejudice.
I feel good about the Mississippi Council on Human Relations,
what we were able to do.
We did hold the first integrated
dinner in a public hotel in Jackson after the passage of the
Civil Rights Law in sixty-four, you know? And it was the old
King Edward, which is now, as you know, down the tubes, practically,
but there had been no--. I mean there had been small, integrated
gatherings made at different places, but this was a big, our
annual banquet was there, and I figured that that opened some
eyes. And particularly I'm talking about in the white community.
We didn't have to sell any of this in the black community.
But in the white community, it was a kind of an entering wedge
to some better things that came later and all. Now, I don't
want to make too much to-do over that because, for example,
what the Mississippi Council on Human Relations did was infinitesimal
compared to what the NAACP did, but I think in terms of helping
bring the white community along a little bit, the Council
on Human Relations was very helpful. It meant a lot to me,
as I said a moment ago, because I got to know and work with
some great people there including Aaron Henry, and Henry Clay
whom I just mentioned. You might want to talk to him. He is
a retired Methodist minister here in Jackson. And those were
just some of them. There were many others that worked with
us then. NAACP, I think, probably did more effective work
in Mississippi than any of the other civil rights organizations,
mainly because one: it was old and established; two: thanks
to people like Aaron Henry, Charles Young, Amzie Moore. Has
that name surfaced anywhere?
Moore, a wonderful, wonderful guy.
me a little bit about Amzie Moore.
Gray: And of
course, Medgar Evers and Charles Evers. But Amzie Moore, I
got to know him in Cleveland in those early years. He was
the president of the local NAACP in Cleveland. You really
want to hear some stories. I mean, this is going to take a
little while, but this has to do, again, you asked sort of
my evolvement of coming along and this was very important
to me in my early years in Cleveland. Amzie had a federal
job working in the post office in Cleveland, but he also had
a gasoline station. I think it was Amoco. I'm not sure, but
it was a gasoline station. When he was so involved, when the
Citizens' Council started applying economic pressures, they
pretty much shut down his gasoline station, but of course,
he had his federal job and that saved him, I mean, financially,
in a sense. He had that steady income. Well, he and I got
to know one another, really, through Dr. T.R.M. Howard up
in Mound Bayou. Let me see if I can make this short.
This was in the spring of 1954.
It was before Brown v. Board of Education. In the
spring of 1954, I heard that there was a couple in Mound Bayou,
a doctor and his wife, a physician and his wife who were Episcopalians.
So we had had an Episcopal church in Mound Bayou, but it had
closed. So I went up there to see. And I assumed he was working
with Dr. Howard, because Dr. Howard had set up this clinic
that was providing virtually the only medical services, health
services, a lot of those black folks received in the Delta
in those days, and was doing a fantastic job. So I went by
to see Dr. Howard, told him who I was looking for and why,
and it happened that the doctor was not there that day but
he said come back and you could see him. But anyway, he and
I got to talking and he told me about a meeting that his group,
called the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, was sponsoring
at Mound Bayou just a few weeks later, maybe a couple of weeks
later because it was still, let's say it was April or early
May of 1954. So, I went back for this meeting. Now, you talking
about an eye-opener. Of course, this is an all-black community
in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, but there on this spring
day, they said the crowd was estimated at 10,000 people. Now
that may be a little high, but there were more people than
anybody could begin to count. Now, they had a huge tent, a
big tent where the speaking was going on and all. Of course,
they had the PA system. You could spread it all around. And
Thurgood Marshall was the principal speaker. That was what
attracted me. I wanted to go hear Thurgood Marshall. He was
going to be the main speaker there. And the place was just
full of folks.
Now as far as I know, except for
two reporters from Hodding Carter's Greenville newspaper, I
was the only white person there. I didn't ever see another white
one, except I saw these two guys and we talked to one another
to find out what we were doing there, and they were reporters
for Hodding Carter's Delta Democratic Times. But I
guess what got me and what struck me was you had no idea that
there was this kind of sentiment, this kind of support, this
kind of almost already civil rights activity. Now, this is before
Brown v. Board of Education. To find 10,000 people
gathered in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, to hear Thurgood Marshall
out in the open. I mean, there wasn't any building that could
have held them.
Well, it was an impressive
talk, and so forth, and then I understood they were going
to have a panel discussion that evening on what to do and
what can each individual contribute toward racial healing
and at that point primarily integration. Well, I went back
that evening. I figured that this would be worth hearing,
too. The crowd was down. Way, way, way down. I mean like four
or five hundred people were all [who] were there then, but
so many of these people had come from all over the Delta and
when the sun went down, they went home. But the ones that
were left were gathered in that tent, there, and I, again,
was the only white person there, and Dr. Howard saw me. So
he invited me to come up and be a part of the panel. Well,
man, I really, I know I did a miserable job. I was speechless
and everything else, but I'm telling the story because when
I got up there and took a part in the panel, I got some exposure.
That was where I first met Amzie Moore. He was this guy from
Cleveland, and he was living in Cleveland. That's where I
first met Aaron Henry. Aaron Henry was there.
So I'm telling the story because
it gave me an entree, an introduction to a lot of the black
leaders, in the Delta, particularly, and some of them who
had worked all over Mississippi, like Aaron Henry, right as
I was starting. I hadn't been out of seminary a year at that
point. And of course, the Brown v. Board of Education
decision came just about two or three weeks after that meeting.
All right. Well, in the wake of this, Amzie Moore, I got to
see him. For a while we were meeting sort of secretly, in
a sense. He knew when I came by the post office to pick up
my mail at the box and he would see to it [that] he was out
in the lobby sweeping the lobby, just about the time I would
show up. And we had many a conversation, I'm talking about
in those early months together, just talking in the lobby
of the post office in Cleveland. Now, once we got to know
one another, then we spent a lot of other time together. In
fact, he introduced me to Medgar Evers; and, I met Medgar
Evers in Amzie's home in Cleveland and I can date that pretty
well because that would have been spring of 1956.
The reason I can date it is
I had been a participant in religious emphasis week at Mississippi
State University in February of that year. I had been assigned
a topic to speak on called, "The Social Implications of the
Christian Gospel." And in the course of that talk, I said
segregation was incompatible with the Christian religion,
the Christian gospel. There was a reporter there, he picked
it up. The legislature got hold of it. They started pressing
the college president to get rid of that "communist," and
so forth and so on, and again, without going into the whole
detail, I ended up leaving.
They told me I either had to
promise not to mention the issue of segregation or race again
or get off the campus, and of course, I had a seminar coming
up on, "The Changing South." I was supposed to talk about
the changing south without mentioning race or segregation.
When I got back, that got in the newspapers. See, a lot of
this stuff didn't get in the newspapers. That got in the newspapers
all over, so there were threats on my life and so forth, and
Amzie came to talk to me, and we got to know one another very
well then. And as a result of all the publicity in the newspapers,
when I would go into the black section of town, the police
would follow me and had their lights right behind me. Well,
this particular night, Amzie wanted me to come out [and] have
dessert with them because Medgar Evers, who was pretty new,
then, I think he was brand new at that point as executive
director of the state NAACP, [was there]. Well, I pulled up
in front of Amzie's house and the police were right behind
me. And it was a warm night, and we sat out on the front porch
and he introduced me to Medgar Evers and we were sitting out
on the porch. The police stayed there with their lights shining
bright, you know, right on us, during those opening [words].
We finally got fed up with that and went on inside. We couldn't
stand there and look at the lights, but they stayed out there
till I left, and then followed me home.
And, let me say, one other
thing about Amzie, because, I mean, I'm trying to think of
things that might be of interest to you and your concerns.
After the Citizens' Councils got well organized and were putting
all this economic pressure on anybody who was organizing voter
registration or who was signing petitions for integration
of the schools at that point, and Amzie as president of the
local NAACP was a prime target, and as I said, he lost his
business, his gasoline station, but he stayed in the post
office. Well, there was an outfit called the National Sharecroppers
Fund. I think, in origin it goes back to the thirties. But
at this point it sort of was revived to provide economic help,
economic support and relief to victims of the Citizens' Councils'
economics pressures and they were going to do--. Of course,
there were plenty of people in that area in the Delta and
around Cleveland who were suffering from those pressures.
Well, they were working through Amzie, the NAACP president,
but they wanted another channel through which to go, something
like a church or something. So Amzie asked me if I would work
with him on this, and what I was asked to do was to sort of
investigate each claim, so to speak. I mean, they would recommend
so-and-so, who has been a victim of economic pressure, and
he is entitled to, he would like some financial help. I would
go interview the person, talk to the person and then make
my recommendations back to the National Sharecroppers Fund.
And so, Amzie and I worked
in that way to provide economic relief to those who had been
victims of economic pressure, all of whom were black, by the
way. But there was an interesting story connected with it,
and it shows how things operated in the Mississippi of that
day and time, and you can probably tell stories. You're not
old enough to know about that, (laughter) but a lot of folks
could tell stories similar to this. You never know, I'm talking
about in the white community now, who your supporters are.
The National Sharecroppers Fund, although this help was technically
a loan, they knew they weren't going to get it paid back and
they weren't expecting it, but still they had to go through
the process, so they had to have a formal promissory note
signed. So we needed a lawyer. And I said, "Amzie, I don't
know what lawyer." There were no black lawyers in town. And
I said, "There's not a white lawyer in town who's going to
get involved in this." I mean, he is going against the Citizens'
He said--. Oh, Lord, I'm forgetting
the name, now.
[He said,] "Try Joe Feduccia."
I said, "Joe Feduccia. His
partner is in the state Senate and one of the leading Citizens'
Council people and everything else."
He said, "You just try Joe.
You go talk to Joe. Tell him what you want." See, Amzie knew
more about the white community than I did. He knew that Joe
Feduccia was a sympathizer even though he was in there, in
a law firm, with a guy that was a leading segregationist and
Citizens' Council. I went to see Joe, and he and I knew one
another. He lived not too far from me, and I told him as best
I could. I didn't go into any details. Obviously, he knew
what I was talking about, but he acted like he didn't. I mean,
he acted like he didn't know what I was doing, but he would
draw up those forms for me. So he became our lawyer without
ever acknowledging what we were doing. But see, Amzie knew
that. I didn't know it. Now Joe and I got to be pretty good
friends after that (laughter), later on.
But that kind of dynamic was
at work in lots of Mississippi and I'll say Southern communities,
too, I think, where somebody who wanted to be of help, but
couldn't, was afraid to be open about it, and everything,
but somehow or another the undercurrent, or secret transmission
of information or something got back, so Amzie could recommend
a white lawyer for me to see to deal about this. Now, that's
just a side light on what life was like in those days. But
those were the kind of relationships that Amzie and I had
and we remained close friends long after I moved from Cleveland.
I didn't see a whole lot of him, but we corresponded, talked
on the telephone from time to time, but I tell you, to try
and identify [him].
Now, the name Bob Moses means
something to you.
from Lanier, the Algebra Project.
Gray: All right,
well, but Bob Moses was really the key person in that Freedom
Summer down here. The COFO. He was sort of the overall coordinator
of the whole operation and Bob Moses referred to Amzie Moore
as his father in the civil rights movement. I mean, he made
a tremendous testimonial statement at Amzie's funeral, and
I've got copies of that. But that's who Amzie was. And he
was a very special person to all of us.
me ask you this. In Meridian, you mentioned COFO, NAACP. I
don't think you mentioned CORE.
CORE and SNCC and SCLC were all involved in COFO, see. COFO,
you remember, was a combination of those four: NAACP, SCLC,
CORE, and SNCC.
Did you know Jesse Moore?
Gray: Not well.
I met him once or twice.
still kicking around town.
Gray: Is he
still kicking around town?
a matter of fact, Jesse got me involved with the Jackson State
Gray: Oh, really?
he is still running around. Yes, we do have a few casualties
from the civil rights movement, too, you know. I'm talking
about still living, you know.
I think this is very important. One of the things I talked
to Dr. Bolton about was a white perspective, the inside, because
all the folks that I have interviewed so far have been African-American.
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
you read that quote off again?
Ralph Ellison just before his death in 1994. This is what
he had to say: "You cannot be Southern without being black.
And you cannot be a black Southerner without being white.
We are too much a part of one another for it to be any other
Now, I know how you can shoot
holes in that and everything else, but still he is saying
something that rings true in my experience. Let me just put
it like that, Don.
Gray: I have
a feeling he had a similar kind of experience from a different
perspective. But still, that really got my attention.
know, I grew up in Chicago, and you know you talk about the
city of immigrants. The Italians, the Jewish community over
in Hyde Park around the University of Chicago, that's probably
the closest (inaudible). But you talk about some real hard-core--.
Gee, I never saw a white person until I was about fourteen
years old. I mean, I lived in black Chicago, and I remember
traveling somewhere to a baseball game or something. I looked
at the white folks and said, "Gee, they look funny. Gee, you
don't see very--." (Laughter.) I mean, when I was growing
up as a kid in Chicago, you didn't see any white folks, you
But you knew that you couldn't
go across Cicero. You knew that there were certain neighborhoods
that you did not go in. It was taboo, you know? And so, it
was that kind of distance between whereas in the South, although
it was [a] segregationist system, but there was still a kind
of human bonding system here in terms of working, in terms
of interpersonal relationships, in terms of domestic relationships,
in terms of miscegenation, you know? I mean, there are a whole
lot of mulattos running around. You say, "Geez, how did we
get all these folks up in here?" (Laughter.) I mean, there
are certain sections (inaudible) a bunch of sisters. I mean,
these girls are all very high yellow. I forget the names of
the girls but there was a bunch of them back in the woods
there. I said, "Gee, I guess something is going on here."
all segregation everywhere, all the time, was it? Well, I
think, you know, Ralph Ellison is probably roughly my generation.
I think he may have been a little older or something, but
there was that, and I know it wasn't right, and all that,
but the fact remains, you know you get raised by, I was raised
by black women, in so many respects. Now my parents were wonderful
parents. I'm not saying anything [about them]. But, all I'm
saying is, that was a part of my raising, and I guess I have
to say, like Ellison, you can't be Southern without being
black, in that generation, in that coming along. And that
doesn't excuse all the horrible things. Well, you know, I
don't need to go into those.
I want to thank you for this interview and taking your time,
and I hope, after I talk to Dr. Bolton, I hope that we can
get back and do kind of a follow-up deal, and as I said, I
appreciate your taking your time. It has been very informative
I am happy to have met you. I look forward to being with you
(End of interview.)